St. John ?>

St. John's Episcopal Church

Beverly Farms, MA

Altarpiece

Christ; the Virgin; St. Francis of Assisi; Adoring Angels; signs of the Four Evangelists, 1926

Commissioned by: Cram and FergusonMedium: oil and gold leaf on wood panelExecuted by: Hildreth MeièreAdditional fabricators: Frank Humrich, gilding

Winthrop Memorial altarpiece in place

Winthrop Memorial altarpiece in place

In September 1925, Hildreth Meière was in Los Altos, California, when she received a forwarded letter from Bertram Goodhue’s former partner Ralph Adams Cram asking her to begin work right away on a triptych for St. John’s Church in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts. The triptych was to be donated by Miss Clara Winthrop, who was very specific as to the design she wanted and had provided Cram with a photograph of a sample drawing to inspire Meière. Cram conveyed Miss Winthrop’s requirements for the triptych to Meière:

The subjects for the painting are to be, in the centre, Our Lord, with the chalice and host, in an attitude of invitation, with a background that you may dispose of at your discretion, excepting Miss Winthrop has suggested the grapevine and wheat flanking the figure in some way, either symmetrically or otherwise. The other two panels to be St. Elizabeth of Hungary and St. Francis of Assisi. Under these panels there will be adoring angels facing the cross, which will be centred over the carved panel under the central picture.1

Cram enclosed a small-scale drawing of the panels

in order that you may make a sketch to embody your ideas for the picture which Miss Winthrop very much hopes you can get to her for her to view before she departs for the Far East on October 14th.

He believed it was important that Miss Winthrop see “some tangible evidence of what is to be done for her.” Cram further advised Meière to meet with Miss Winthrop personally to “have an opportunity to confer with her” and to “see the window which is in place over the altarpiece which you are to do.”2

Meière found Miss Winthrop’s demands amusing and responded by telegraph:

Letters and drawings received. Arriving New York October first. Can give job immediate attention. Will come to Boston with sketches to see church about October seventh if that is convenient to Miss Winthrop. Will strive earnestly to conceal limitations of modern genius. Address until Wednesday night Los Altos California. Hildreth Meière3
Detail of Winthrop Memorial altarpiece

Detail of Winthrop Memorial altarpiece

Irving & Casson promised to have the carved altarpiece in place in St. John’s Church by July, which meant that Cram and Ferguson could not “carry the gilding to the extent that we would do if we had plenty of time.”4

Winthrop Memorial altarpiece with open doors

Winthrop Memorial altarpiece with open doors

Upon seeing Meière’s panels, Cram wrote:

We like the panels very much. They are somewhat more mellow than we anticipated, but for this very reason we believe Miss Winthrop will be all the more pleased, and therefore we feel that all will be well. The panels are truly beautiful.5

Miss Winthrop was indeed pleased, according to a letter Meière later wrote to a Mr. Thompson:

When the final check came for this job, it was for five hundred dollars more than the agreed price. The donor said she had been agreeably surprised by my work and wanted me to have more money! And this was from a Boston maiden lady! She is one of my best friends now, but I didn’t know her at the time, and I still don’t believe it.6

Meière displayed her design for a panel of the Winthrop Memorial, as the St. John altarpiece was known, at the 42nd Annual Exhibition of the Architectural League of New York in 1927. That same year, photographs of the all of Meière’s panels for the Winthrop Memorial illustrated an article on Meière in Architectural Record.7

1

Frank E. Cleveland, letter to Meière, September 14, 1925, Hildreth Meière Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

2

Cleveland, letter to Meière, September 14, 1925, HM Papers.

3

Cleveland, letter to Meière, September 14, 1925, HM Papers.

4

Cleveland, letter to Meière, July 7, 1926, HM Papers.

5

Cleveland letter to Meière, July 7, 1926, HM Papers.

6

Meière, letter to Mr. Thompson, May 23, 1936, HM Papers.

7

Ann Lee, “Hildreth Meière Mural Painter,” Architectural Record (August 1927): 111.

Additional Resources

Commission Location

Emblem

St. John's Episcopal Church
705 Hale Street
Beverly Farms, MA 01915

Get Directions